Emilia “Emily” Benavides, of Lolita, felt a persistent tug to retire despite a strong desire to continue teaching.

She had taught elementary school for 29 years in the Calhoun and Industrial school districts.

The Rev. Johnson Owusu-Boateng, the priest at St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Vanderbilt, asked her how she would fill her time in retirement, but she did not know. Her four children were grown with lives of their own. She and her husband were empty nesters.

The reasons for the inexplicable feeling that drew her away from teaching became apparent soon after she retired.

Both her mother and her mother-in-law became sick and needed her help. And then the parishioner responsible for the catechetical program, commonly known as C.C.D., at her church died unexpectedly.

Benavides approached Owusu-Boateng about the possibility that perhaps she had retired also to help the church with its educational programming. They agreed to pray about the possibility and later decided that she would assume the duties.

Benavides will attend the 32nd Annual Catholic Conference of the Catholic Diocese of Victoria from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Joseph High School. The theme of the conference is “Embracing God’s Family.”

Her aim is to grow her knowledge and fortify her faith for the work that started soon after her retirement.

Although she had taught C.C.D classes throughout her adult life, the prospect of assuming management of a dozen instructors teaching 65 children at her church was daunting. To refresh her knowledge of Catholic teachings, she enrolled in classes offered by the Diocese of Victoria’s Pastoral Institute and began attending the annual conferences.

In addition to the educational value, the conferences and classes offer a “good way to meet people, learn about resources and exchange ideas,” Benavides said.

The keynote speaker, Lucia Baez Luzondo, will present “The Joy of the Family: A Way to Holiness” in separate English and Spanish morning sessions. She is an attorney, co-founder of Family Renewal Ministries, and co-host of a weekly television series and radio program that airs on EWTN Global Catholic Television and Radio’s Spanish stations.

Afterward, guests will select three presentations they will attend from over 35 delivered by more than 20 guest speakers throughout the remainder of the day.

“As the world continues to evolve and change, we work against many forces that say religion is boring and not cool. We run into this all the time, and others do, too,” said Christella Alvarez, director of catechetical ministry and conference coordinator for the diocese. “It’s scary not to know what to say and how to say it – even in our own families sometimes.”

Conference attendees leave better equipped to handle such situations, “not proudly or abruptly, but with an understanding of why we are so in love with God and the church,” she continued. “Our hope for every conference is to bring people together from all over the diocese, and try to help them understand and live their faith better. Continuing to learn and grow in faith is the whole point.”

Some who attend the conference and ongoing classes are catechists or connected somehow to ministry in their churches, while others are simply parishioners who want to learn more about Catholic teachings and grow in their faith. They might include Catholic parents who are guiding their children in their faith or non-Catholics interested in learning about the faith. All are welcome, she said.

“Why do we genuflect? Why do we make the sign of the cross? Why do we pray to Jesus? ‘Because Mom told me to,’” Alvarez said. “Sometimes we drift away because we don’t know why we are doing these things.”

Sister Digna Vela will continue teaching classes about the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings for five more weeks through the Pastoral Institute.

The teachings on John will provide insight into the gospel’s many miracles and symbolic stories. The section on Revelation will reveal the true meaning of the final book of the Bible and dispel common misconceptions that it pertains to end times, she said.

“We love to invite others to have the same joy and love and experience,” Alvarez said.

Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate. 

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